Regardless of how busy I am, I always attend the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, NY. One of the most well attended of the NYBG’s shows, along with their Orchid Show and special summer exhibits, the Holiday Train Show holds lustrous wonders. And whenever possible before the start of the show, I enjoy speaking with the Applied Imagination personnel who they have conceptualized, designed, and created the innovations for the NYBG Holiday Train Show since its inception.
Now in its 27th year, the show’s expansion continues. Indeed, more trains have been added. Also, the materials used to perk up the displays appear fresh and more vibrantly colorful than ever. The introductory film, referencing Applied Imagination Studio workshops in Alexandra, Kentucky, discloses a behind-the-scenes look. From Alexandria, the miniature botanical sculptures rise from their humble plant-part beginnings.
In the film, Applied Imagination staff including Leslie Salka and Laura Busse Dolan and the NYBG team including Karen Daubmann and Todd Forrest explain which replicas are their favorites. Each year Applied Imagination adds excitement and grandeur to its New York collection. This year the newest replicas shine in the reflecting pool of the Palms of the World Gallery.
The best way to see the Holiday Train Show is to visit a few times. One time, visit with family. Especially bring children who will adore the variety of trains, from trolleys and passenger liners to freights, locomotives, and diesels. And come on Member Day. Then you will receive a 20% discount in the Garden Shop to spend on gifts. Also, meander through the conservatory. Take the time to appreciate close up the intricate detail of each replica. Compare the plant parts to architectural structures and materials, like roofs, cornices, columns, bricks, slate, and stone. Applied Imagination craftspersons design the replicas to miniature scale. Constructing with precision, they follow archived historic photographs.
Only when I move slowly do I appreciate the botanical replicas of buildings that once stood in high esteem during New York’s Gilded Age. These buildings, such as the Senator William Andrews Clark House, were so expensive to maintain that their owners demolished them, making way for modern apartment buildings to house the growing urban population.
In the case of The Samuel J. Tilden House (home of the National Arts Club), the Morris-Jumel Mansion, and the Felix M. Warburg House (The Jewish Museum), un-affordable grand mansions became museums, funded by non profit organizations. By profoundly, carefully viewing the structures in the Holiday Train Show, you take a stroll back into the history of New York. And what an amazing and precious stroll this is, for it inspires your imagination to reflect about the past. And this reflection grounds you front and center in the present.
Whether I’m perusing the older replicas or the newer additions, I appreciate how the staff of Applied Imagination and the NYBG team collaborated for months beforehand. After they agree on the innovations and drawings and their placement in the conservatory, they construct the replicas from botanicals (sticks, fungus, moss, leaves, gourds, bark, acorns, nut shells, pepper flakes, etc.). Some of these plant parts come from the fields of Alexandria, Kentucky. Other bits and pieces (various gourd parts, etc.) come from suppliers.
After the construction, Applied Imagination ships the replicas to the NYBG. Then additional fun begins. Within the span of two weeks, volunteers and staff set the stored and new models in beautiful plantings. The arrangements accommodate permanent installations of conservatory trees, etc. There is also a variety of completely new floral plantings (orchids, violets, bromeliads, cyclamen, Christmas Cactus, lilies, etc.) and various ferns, bamboo, ivy, pothos, dracena, Norfolk Island Pines and other shrubs and greenery. Volunteers and staff position all these to complement the 25-gauge model trains sweeping down a half mile of railroad track.
Quaintly the trains peek out from low-hanging branches and water displays. Then they emerge and whip around the tracks like racers. In the 3,000-foot expansion a myriad of types of trains fly above on trestles and bridges. Below, locomotives, freights, trolleys, and passenger liners whoosh around the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, bustling through replicas that include Grand Central Station and the original Pennsylvania Station (demolished in 1964). What a fantasy wonderland! It’s an unparalleled treasure for New Yorkers as well as for tourists who come to the city for the holidays.
As the pièce de resistance this year, the Holiday Train Show presents Lower Manhattan, the birthplace of New York City, as its star attraction. Of course the central feature is One World Trade Center. Branches form the sides of the building and the emphasis is on freedom and a resurrection from the destruction of 2001. Also in the Palms of the World Gallery and Reflecting Pool you will find the replica of the Beaux-Arts Battery Maritime Building. Gliding in stasis on the pool surface are two vintage ferry boat replicas (Bronx and Manhattan).
Other buildings include the Battery Park Control House, the 60-story Woolworth Building, and the Terminal Warehouse (1890). The crown jewel replica, One World Trade Center, is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the sixth-tallest in the world. The unique Oculus replica is placed at the foot of One World Trade. The Oculus is a terminal that opened in 2016 and connects 11 lines of NYC’s subways, New Jersey’s PATH rail system, and the Battery Park City Ferry Terminal.
For specific programming, go to the New York Botanical Garden website. Look for Bar Car Nights on select Fridays and Saturdays (December 15, 21, 22, 28, 29; January 5, 12). Warm up around the fire pits in the Leon Levy Visitor Center. For the artist in you, watch live ice-sculpting demonstrations. Or sing along with dueling pianos in the Pine Tree Cafe and listen to roving a cappella groups.
Finally, enjoy former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins for a special poetry reading. Collins will select 12 winning poems by students submitted to the Kid’s Poetry Contest. The poems will be displayed at NYBG during the Holiday Train Show. And the student authors will share their work during this special reading on Sunday, December 16 at 2 p.m. For more information about how to enter the Kids’ Poetry Contest visit http://www.nybg.org/poets.
This season’s New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show 2018 ends on 21 January, 2019.